Religious minorities want basic rights granted

Updated March 27, 2019

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Activists demand national commission, passage of law, and re-initiation of ministry for protection of minorities. ─ Dawn/File
Activists demand national commission, passage of law, and re-initiation of ministry for protection of minorities. ─ Dawn/File

LAHORE: Representatives and activists from religious minorities expressed disappointment over the state of law and order nationwide, as crimes against their communities continued unabated.

Speaking to Dawn, several minority members complained that they were denied their basic rights and many of the laws regarding freedom and safety were not being fully implemented.

“It is ironic that while the Lahore Resolution advocated safeguards for minorities and the protection of their religious, cultural, economic, political and other rights, in the past few days we have been hearing of a new wave of forced conversions in Sindh and south Punjab,” said Samuel Payara, chairperson of Implementation Minority Rights Forum, which earlier held a press conference also in this regard.

“Only a few days ago, we saw the heart-rending video of a Christian woman who was crying and begging for help and safety ─ she had been paraded naked by some men,” he said.

Payara has in the past filed several petitions in court, including demands for compensation for the Peshawar and Quetta church blast victims.

Hindu community activist Amarnath Randhawa said the issue of forced conversions was rising once again.

“Young girls from the Hindu community are being abducted and raped, and at gunpoint married off to Muslim boys even though some of them are already married,” he said. “Even the Sikh community is not safe, as recently in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa a married young Sikh woman was abducted.”

Randhawa also mentioned the case of the Christian woman – a mother of three – who was allegedly abducted from Islamabad and forcibly converted and married to a Muslim man.

Another Hindu community representative alleged that a couple of girls had been kidnapped from south Punjab a couple of days ago. He said that a few years ago the Sindh government had withdrawn a bill aimed at protecting Hindus, in particular, from forced conversions despite the fact that it was passed by the provincial assembly.

The Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill 2016, presented by then MPA Nand Kumar, mentioned that children under 18 years of age would not be allowed for marriage, however underage Hindu girls were still being kidnapped and forcibly converted.

Payara further said: “On Nov 15, 2018, a decision was made by the former chief justice of Supreme Court that the chairperson of the Evacuee Trust Property Board must belong to the minority community. However, in spite of these orders, no names from the minority community have been sent to the cabinet for approval.”

He also said that most importantly a National Commission of Minorities was needed. He stressed that their demands included immediate action by the prime minister for passing of the Criminal Law (Protection of Minorities) Bill, the Minorities Affairs Ministry be initiated again and this time be headed by a member of the minority community and all Supreme Court orders and directives be implemented.

Published in Dawn, March 27th, 2019